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Charles Has Plenty to Write Home About

July 18, 1999|STEVE HENSON

Diaries can be romantic. And so is the notion of playing professional baseball.

But a diary of a season in the minor leagues can deflate the romance in a hurry, as the good-humored Frank Charles can attest.

Charles, a former Montclair Prep catcher who has bounced around the bush leagues since getting drafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 1991, is one of 12 players who contribute a diary to the Internet website AtTheYard.com.

In refreshingly candid fashion, Charles has chronicled his season with the Las Vegas Stars, the triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

Charles introduced himself in his first entry as a "catcher, first baseman, third baseman, do-what-ever-it-takes journeyman," and compared himself to Crash Davis, the colorful veteran from the movie "Bull Durham."

It was an apt description for a player released by the San Francisco Giants in 1993, signed by the Texas Rangers after playing a season in an independent league and given a chance by the Padres only after Charles called every major league organization.

And only after his agent enthusiastically answered in the affirmative when the Padres asked if Charles had played third base. The truth was he had played only three games there in his life.

Charles wrote: "Baseball, what a crazy, amazing game. If you'd have asked me if I had a chance to play third at the triple-A level, I'd have said, 'I just hope to have a job.' Things turn around in a hurry. I'm living proof of that."

After a hot start, Charles began to struggle about the same time the grueling travel of the Pacific Coast League took a toll.

His next diary entry: "Through all my years of bus rides at the Class-A and double-A levels, I yearned for the glamorous plane trips of triple-A. . . . Well, my friends, now that I am a little older and saltier, my opinion has differed a bit."

Charles details his daily schedule, which leaves only five hours for sleep, then explains his slump in frank terms.

"Any slump is frustrating, but this is like a constant tease. . . . The worst thing is knowing you aren't going good but still getting a hit here or there and thinking, 'I'm back. That's all I needed.' But the reality is you are still not finished yet because you don't feel good at the plate."

Charles survived the slump and is batting .241 with 14 doubles, two homers and 21 runs batted in. He also survived the signing of Mark Parent as a backup catcher--which originally was to be Charles' role. He played extensively at third until the team signed Carlos Baerga, but lately he is catching again because top prospect Ben Davis was promoted to the Padres.

Charles' latest entry: "Wish me luck. I am very excited about my opportunity [to catch]. I'll keep working hard toward my goal of realizing the dream.

"If you've got a uniform on, you've got a chance. After eight years in the minors, I live by that motto."

*

Just when Joe Yingling began to feel comfortable in the batter's box, he took a hit while blocking the plate that threatens to prematurely end his first season with the Detroit Tigers' Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Yingling, a rugged catcher from Camarillo High, weathered several collisions during spring training but Rodney Eberley, a Phillie prospect, flattened him in a game two weeks ago. Yingling held onto the ball for the out, but sustained a separated right shoulder, sprained wrist, sprained neck and slight concussion.

"You are always anticipating a collision, but nothing like this," Yingling said. "I caught the ball, turned and he hit me with his elbows up and head down."

After the hit, Yingling sprung to his feet, threw down the ball, grabbed his mask and ran to the dugout. He remembers none of that.

"I couldn't feel my hands, and my shoulder and neck were hurting," he said.

Yingling, The Times' 1998 Ventura County player of the year, remained in Lakeland, Fla., for therapy and is ahead of schedule in his recovery. Doctors originally believed he would miss the rest of the season, but Yingling hopes to be back in August.

"The neck is healed and the wrist is close," he said. "I have almost full range of motion in my shoulder, but it's still weak."

Most depressing for Yingling is that he doubled in his last at-bat, ending an 0-for-10 skid.

"I'd been working on staying back and exploding on the ball and I finally got it right," he said. "Then I got hurt."

Short hops: Right-hander Josh Towers (Hueneme, Oxnard College) of Bowie (Orioles) was chosen player of the week in the double-A Eastern League after pitching a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and no walks the first week of July.

Towers is the fifth player of the week from the region this season and second on his team. Right-hander Javier De La Hoya (Grant) was honored May 16.

Towers is 7-5 with a 4.30 earned-run average in a team-leading 115 innings. De La Hoya was 9-1 with a 3.36 ERA at Bowie before being promoted in mid-June to triple-A Rochester, where he is 2-1.

Kurt Airoso (Cal State Northridge) was player of the week for double-A Jacksonville the third week of June, and infielder J.P. Roberge (St. Francis) was honored in May for triple-A Omaha.

Left-hander Randy Wolf (El Camino Real) was player of the week for triple-A Scranton in April.

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